Monday, 7 September 2015

Entire French Nation in Cutlery Shocker

Clearly I am not a very observant person.

Because it took me eight years to discover that in France, not only is it acceptable to eat your breakfast baguette off the table without using a plate, but you can also hold your knife in your left hand and your fork in your right and use the knife to snowplough food on to the fork before scooping it into your mouth.

And I only found out when a friend who is also married to a Frenchman told me that at her in-laws' house, this practice is so common that they actually set the table the opposite way round and she is always getting into trouble for laying out the cutlery in the conventional British fashion.

It's not that this particular way of eating is particularly shocking per se, it's just that in the UK we tend to believe that the French are more sophisticated and refined than we are, and in high-class British etiquette it's considered rude even to turn your fork over and use it like a spoon - even for eating peas, you're supposed to push them on to the back of the fork and raise them delicately to your mouth with your left hand. In real life, most people would turn over the fork, or use it in their right hand to eat foods like rice or baked beans, but using a knife in the left hand is so bizarre to me that I don't think I would even know how to do it.

With nothing more than our upcoming wedding to stress about, I worried for about 5 minutes about how Understanding Frenchman will ever teach our children table manners (if we ever have any children), but then I realised that if it took me 8 years to notice what the French were up to, it couldn't be as serious as all that.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Recreating the Auld Alliance: Our Franco-Scottish Wedding

We did it! Having had not only our low-key wedding at the mairie in Paris but also our 3-day Scottish DIY wedding extravaganza, Understanding Frenchman and I are now quite definitely married. And, having not only survived but spent most of the time with huge smiles beaming across our faces, I thought I'd share some of our experiences of organising what almost certainly was the greatest party of our lives. So here are some thoughts:

Getting married at the mairie in July worked really well for us. Although it was a bit weird being officially married but still having our big day ahead of us (and telling the man in the wine shop that you and your mari need to order wine for your wedding...) it was also nice in the hectic few weeks before our Scottish event to know that whatever might possibly go wrong, we would definitely be married at the end of it because in fact, we already were.

When you walk down the aisle, it can be good to know you're already married!
A venue with on-site accommodation was the right choice. We were initially a bit apprehensive that not all of our guests would appreciate the hostel-style dorms and shared bathrooms at our chosen location, but in the end, with alternatives being hard to find and quite expensive, especially with the current exchange rates, nearly everyone decided staying on-site was the best option. Also, even after 3 days, I didn't feel I'd spent as much time with everyone as I wanted to, so I can't even imagine the frustration if we'd only had a few hours with all those people that we don't get to see often enough and who had travelled a really long way to be there with us.

DIY worked. And our friends are awesome. To have a venue with all the accommodation, for three days, and still stay within our budget, we had to do a LOT of DIY. The only professional services we brought in were caterers for the wedding meal and a ceilidh band for the Scottish dancing in the evening. This meant a lot of organising by us in the months, weeks and days leading up to the wedding, and a lot of hard work by our friends and family both on and before the day, but the end results went beyond all our expectations and were a true testament to the love and friendship of all the people who helped us out.

Serving up le haggis

My mum, brother and sister-in-law cooked haggis for 100 people the night before and one of Understanding Frenchman's friends did all the barbecuing for our final meal the day after. My oldest friend and her mum did all the floristry using flowers I'd ordered from Flowers for Florists (who were incredibly helpful and even sent out the flowers before I'd paid for them after I had a problem with the ordering system on their website.) I bought 500 sheets of tissue paper from a wholesaler supplying packaging materials to small businesses and a big group of friends turned them into giant pompoms, while French-speaking teacher friend organised a decoration-making workshop for all the children who came to the wedding. That same friend also conducted our unofficial wedding ceremony in a way that was touching and beautiful and personal and which I will never forget. And then there were all the people who served drinks and moved tables and handed out programmes and probably did a hundred things to help out that we didn't even ask them to do. If any of them are reading this, thank you: you are the best!

Flowers by Friends
(Incidentally, all our friends were fantastic, but I have the impression that this ability to take the initiative and work together to coordinate events like this is also a particularly French trait. Perhaps it's because in France more weddings, and other significant parties, take place in people's gardens, or the local salle des fêtes, whereas Scottish weddings are usually in places like castles and hotels where more is done for you. Whatever, it was a group of French friends who noticed on the morning of the wedding that we were about to get married next to a barbecue and quickly sourced a table cloth and rustled up a few extra pompoms to keep our wedding chic!)

Spot the BBQ!

Translation is Important. We were lucky to have a friend who could conduct a bilingual wedding ceremony for us. UFM said his vows in French and I spoke mine in English. (It was meant to be the other way round, but in the stress of the moment we forgot!) For the ceremony readings, we put together a little booklet with translations to avoid absolutely everything having to be repeated twice, and we also had French and English versions of all the information, instructions and menus. Probably one of the trickiest things was the speeches - we did ours in both languages, my dad spoke in English and my mum in French, and the best men did a bilingual speech as well. Where we went wrong was having several of these before dinner, as it all took longer than expected and the food got a little bit cold, so if there was one thing I could change about the wedding, it was probably that. We were glad we made the effort with the translations though, as some of the non-English speakers felt a bit lost during the rest of their stay in Scotland, but at least we could say that for the part that was under our control, we had done our best.

French version of our wedding menu

Food is also important, and so is wine... In terms of catering, we were determined to bring in all the good things from both of our cultures. We were happy with the caterers we found, who used lots of local produce and were able to produce a menu to impress even the French guests, (or at least keep their taste buds and digestive systems happy). We bought most of our wine online from, tasting bottles from our local shops to choose the ones we wanted and having them delivered to my parents' house in Scotland. (You can have up to 36 bottles delivered internationally at a time before you have to pay customs and excise duty.) Unfortunately, this fell through for our last order, where Nicolas claimed they sent us an email to tell us that the wine we wanted was out of stock, but we never received it and found ourselves ten days from the wedding with no red to serve. Luckily Majestic, a UK company, were there to help and even phoned around several Edinburgh stores to find enough of the wine we wanted and deliver them on time. We ordered cheese from France from the Fromagerie Beillevaire, and that arrived with no greater hitch that the delivery driver complaining that he had to move the package to the back of his van because of the smell, to which UFM replied with a shrug, "yes, eet eez cheeze," thus confirming the reputation of Frenchmen worldwide. We also bought local Scottish cheeses from I.J. Mellis, a specialist in Edinburgh, just to keep things in balance.

... and so is whisky. Our venue had a rule that, although the party could continue as long as we wanted, we had to turn amplified music off and be reasonably quiet after 11pm. I was worried that, well-meaning as our French friends are, they might find this completely incomprehensible, as French weddings tend to go on all night and, in Brittany, traditionally end with the guests cooking onion soup and serving it to the bride and groom sometime around 5am. In the end though, everyone was very understanding, particularly as my brother had brought along a few bottles of single malt and was organising a very civilised whisky tasting just at the moment when we turned the music off.

The sun can shine, even in Scotland. Our trips to Scotland the last two summers had been a bit of a washout weather-wise, so the most we were hoping for on our wedding day was for it not to rain for the entire day. But as the day grew closer, the forecasts grew better, and we were treated to three days of glorious sunshine with just a little interlude of rain the day after the wedding to prove to our guests that they hadn't brought their waterproofs in vain. Maybe we managed to import some French sunshine along with the wine and cheese, but I'd like to believe that Scotland decided to put on her best welcome for our lovely international guests!